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|92                                                                                                     B- POLEVOI
that the wing had been recommended for the Order of
the Red Banner; that Ivanchuk had received two awards
at once; that Yashin had gone out hunting and had killed
a fox, which for some reason proved to be without a tail,
and that Styopa Rostov had a gumboil, and this had
spoiled his love affair with Lenochka—all this was to him
of equal interest. For an instant his mind carried him to
the airfield hidden in the forest which the airmen cursed
because of the treacherous ground, and which seemed to
him now to be the best spot on earth.
He was so absorbed with the contents of the letters that
he did not notice the different dates, nor did he catch the
Commissar winking to the nurse and pointing in his direc-
tion as he whispered to her: "My medicine is better than
all your barbitals and veronals." Alexei never learned
that, foreseeing this contingency, the Commissar had with-
held some letters from him in order to mitigate the terrible
blow by letting him read the friendly greetings and news
from his beloved airfield. The Commissar was an old
soldier. He knew the value of these hurriedly and careless-
ly written scraps of paper, which, at the front, are some-
times more precious than medicine or bread.
The letter from Andrei Degtyarenko, simple and rug-
ged, like himself, contained a small note written in a tiny,
curly hand and bristling with exclamation marks. It read:
"Comrade Senior Lieutenant! It is too bad of you that
you do not keep your promise!!! In the wing they often
mention you; I'm not telling a lie, all they do is talk about
you. A little while ago the Wing Commander said in the
dining-room: 'Now Alexei Meresyev, he is a man!!!' You
know yourself that he talks in that way only about the
very best. Come back soon, everybody is expecting you!!!
Big Lyolya from the dining-room asks me to say that she
won't argue any more and will give you three helpings
of the second course at dinner, even if she loses her job
for it. It's too bad, though, that you don't keep your
promise!!! You have written to the others, but you have
not written to me. I feel very hurt about it, and that is
why I am not sending you a separate letter. But please
write to me—in a separate letter—and tell me how you
are, and all about yourself! ..."
At the end of this amvjsing note there was the signature;